By Honourable Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer, Q.C. : Throughout history roughly 114 million women and girls have undergone some form of female genital mutilation. This procedure is practiced in 27 countries in Africa, 7 countries in the Middle East, as well as in several parts of Malaysia, India and Indonesia. Although many people are quick to dismiss this practice as an African issue or perhaps even an immigrant issue, female genital mutilation is in fact very much a Canadian issue and is one that demands our immediate attention.
Canada is a country that prides itself on multiculturalism and is home to individuals from various religions, races and creeds. It is also a country which relies on immigration in order to sustain its economy. A Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women claims that between 1986 and 1991, approximately 40,000 women who had arrived in Canada had been subjected to some form of female genital cutting. This is not including the thousands of women who arrived in Canada from Somalia after 1991 statistics indicate that many of these women were also victims of female genital mutilation.
As a woman who sought refuge in Canada, I am extremely grateful for the warm welcome that was extended to me by the Canadian Government as well as the Canadian people. I am well aware of how fortunate I am to be able to call a country as great as Canada my home. However, I am also aware of the several obstacles that many newly arrived immigrants face in their day to day lives.
Although we are fortunate enough to live in a country that provides several resources such as universal healthcare to all of its citizens, I understand that many newly arrived immigrants are unaware of how to utilize these resources. In addition to experiencing difficulty accessing health care, many women who have already been victimized by female genital mutilation face the additional burden of having a condition that many physicians here in Canada do not know how to treat. These women are often overcome with feelings of shame and embarrassment and as a result do not seek out medical assistance even when they are pregnant. This often results in these women not receiving the necessary natal care which they require.
Although the Federal Government through the implementation of Bill C-27 has made the practice of female genital mutilation a criminal offence that is punishable by law, it is simply not enough. We need to ensure that the women who have immigrated to Canada having already experienced some form of genital cutting are provided with the appropriate health and natal care. In addition to this we, must ensure that these women are educated about the laws surrounding the practice and also the health complications that accompany it. By doing so, we will not only be making sure that the women who have already been victimized receive a standard of health care that is consistent with that which has been granted to all Canadians but we will also be ensuring that these women do not subject their daughters to this practice.
Throughout my time in the Senate I have focused closely on both maternal health and female genital mutilation and have worked on the ground in several parts of Africa to ensure that the rights and freedoms of women and girls are protected. Additionally, I am actively seeking to find ways to educate women who reside in regions where female genital mutilation is still commonly practiced in an effort to eradicate this practice all together. To hear that women in my own country are not receiving the natal care they are entitled to because they have been victimized by female genital mutilation is something I find to be extremely troubling. I believe that it is of utmost importance that here in Canada we make sure that we condemn the practice of female genital mutilation and not the women whom have already been victimized by it. Doing so will help ensure that newly immigrated women receive the care they are entitled to. In addition, it will also help ensure that these women do not victimize future generations by exposing them the practice of female genital mutilation.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with me by visiting my website http://http://sen.parl.gc.ca/mjaffer/ or my Facebook page.